The 2011-12 Hoosiers say goodbye in Atlanta Friday night where they fell to Kentucky 102-90.
Despite the in-game heroics of Christian Watford, who scored a season high 27 points, Indiana's Cinderella season came to end Friday night at the unshakable hands of John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats. The game, which was easily the highest scoring of the NCAA tournament so far, also set the record for most points given up by a Hoosiers team in the program's tournament history.
But the real story was not that IU actually out-shot Kentucky from the floor, nor was it the five UK players who finished the night in double-digits—it was the ridiculous 35-of-37 that Kentucky hit from the line. It is quite impossible, it turns out, to win a basketball game when you're buried in an avalanche of fouls.
And in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, Indiana's greatest literary mind: "So it goes."
There can only ever be one champion, and the end of the season is always, inevitably, disappointing for the losers. This year, for the Hoosiers and their fans, it seems especially bittersweet. After a decade spent in the shadow of Bob Knight, and after being dragged through the mud by Kelvin Sampson, Indiana finally got some much needed relief. Like waking from an all-night bender, or receiving your college degree the same day that first student loan payment is due, the sensation is a mix of foggy memories, pain and the vague feeling of accomplishment.
So with that in mind, it's time to take a stroll back through the season. Here are the seven best moments of IU's 2011-12 campaign.
The Hoosiers clashed with the Butler Bulldogs, NCAA tournament runner-ups for two consecutive years, in the climax of the Hoosier Invitational back in November.
Will Sheehey's career-high 21 points were something to be thankful for, and his contributions from the bench would become a recurring theme all season long. It was the second year in a row IU got off to a 6-0 start, and only the third time since 2002. Sheehey was also named MVP of the tournament.
While the Bulldogs were not the same caliber team they have been in recent years, the victory helped propel the Hoosiers back into the realm of relevance in Division I College Basketball.
The last 10 years, in the state of Indiana, belonged to Butler and Purdue. With two relatively young and charismatic head coaches in Matt Painter and Brad Stevens, there was uncertainty amongst Indiana alum as to whether Coach Crean could continue to bring in the type of recruits that the program needs.
Knocking off Butler helped Crean's cause, and the Hoosiers are now absolutely certain they've found their man. With IU, Butler and Purdue all vying for power in the state, it's impossible not to be excited about the future of basketball in Indiana.
Purdue's Robbie Hummel and IU's Cody Zeller battle for the rock.
Speaking of the devil (and by devil, I mean Purdue), I have to take a moment here and say that, as an IU transplant living in Lafayette, I will not miss Robbie Hummel. He was a great player who had an exceptional college career, but I'm glad to see him go.
I was sitting in a bar in Chauncey Hill one night when in walked the black and gold prince.
IU had just dropped three in a row, losing to lowly Nebraska, and it was the bleakest part of the season. Hummel took the microphone from the inept DJ and decided to lead the bar in a rousing chant of, "IU sucks!" for about 15 minutes.
So when Christian Watford (19 points), Will Sheehey (16 points), Cody Zeller (13 points, seven rebounds) and Jordan Hulls (10 points), all made double-digit scoring in the final game of the regular season, I wasn't crying.
I was dancing, and I could hear them chanting all the way from Bloomington.
Verdell Jones gets some air against Michigan.
While the Wolverines never actually held a lead during this game, it wasn't short on drama.
To their credit, University of Michigan never backed down, and the Wolverines climbed back from a 10-point deficit in the second half to tie the ball game at 68 a piece. Tim Hardaway Jr. finished the game with 19 points and harassed IU all night.
Verdell Jones, the Indiana senior, hit two free throws to regain the lead, and then stepped up and sunk a beautiful, 15-foot deuce.
Stu Douglas responded with a three-pointer for U of M with roughly three seconds left in the game, making the score 72-71. The Wolverines then sent Watford to the line, who managed to convert only one of his free throws.
It wasn't until Zack Novak's half-court prayer bounced off the backboard and time expired that the Hoosiers could regain their breath.
Tom Crean looking excited.
With IU already a lock for the NCAA tournament, their trouncing of the Michigan State Spartans was simply the cherry on top of Tom Crean's first 20-win season since leaving Marquette.
Cody Zeller scored 18 points and Christian Watford had a career-high 14 rebounds.
Draymond Green, arguably the best player in the conference, was impressive with 29 points and eight rebounds, but he was the lone bright spot for State—a lone gunman in an otherwise desolate wasteland of offensive productivity for the Spartans.
It was Indiana's best team victory and, heading into the Big Ten Tournament, IU looked fully capable of pulling off a run to the conference crown. The Hoosiers joined the Kansas Jayhawks as the only teams to upset three top 5 teams in the 2011-12 season.
After losing a road game to Michigan State, the Hoosiers faced No. 2 ranked Ohio State in Assembly Hall.
Cody Zeller spent the majority of the game in foul trouble, and eventually went out with less than three minutes to play in the game. The Buckeyes out rebounded IU, who only made 45.8 percent of their field goals, but somehow, in a game that saw 10 lead changes in the last five-and-a-half minutes, Indiana found a way to win.
With 36 seconds to go, Jordan Hulls, who had 17 points, deflected a bad OSU pass, and Verdell Jones tossed the ball to Victor Oladipo for the go-ahead bucket.
IU then became the fifth team in a decade to beat both the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in a season.
The thrilling win against the VCU Rams was the culmination of Tom Crean's work since arriving in 2008. Watching Victor Oladipo streak down the court, only to have the shot blocked and subsequently picked up by Will Sheehey, had every IU fan in the country out of their seats.
Sheehey's shot went in, and the Hoosiers survived one last attempt by the Rams for the win.
Christian Watford and Cody Zeller had 16 points a piece in a victory that sent Indiana University to the Sweet 16 for the first time in a decade. For most IU fans, this victory was a gift.
The 2011-12 season far exceeded even the most enthusiastic Hoosier's expectations, and the curse of Kelvin Sampson was lifted.
Well, this was obvious.
We've seen the replay over and over again on ESPN, but for IU fans this year, absolutely nothing was sweeter.
It was, as it has been said many times, the culmination of 10 years of frustration and disgrace for Indiana University. Christian Watford, whether he decides to return for his senior year, will forever reign as a folk hero in Indiana basketball lore.
The 2011-12 campaign was remarkable for Indiana University.
For the upperclassmen that weathered years of disappointment, this season was hard-fought and well-earned.
The caliber of recruits IU is bringing in, and the character they have displayed so far, are good omens.
Tom Crean has done an excellent job rebuilding a program that desperately needed him, and with "The Movement" on its way, things are looking up in the heartland.